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Janne Teller: Hvis der var krig i Norden (War)

Though only sixty-four pages long, and therefore not a novel, this story is here for two very good reasons. Firstly, it deals in an interesting way with the very topical and relevant subject of refugees into Europe. Secondly, the original Danish text differs (deliberately) from the English text. The Danish original, published in 2004, imagined that the Nordic countries were at war and imagined a situation where Danes were refugees. This novel is from the British standpoint.

Britain has been taken over by a dictator. He has created what is horribly called the Britification Police. (Note to Teller: if such a nationalist movement were to arise, it would have an English (or Scottish or Welsh or Northern Irish focus), not a British one. These are like the secret police of any nasty dictatorship. People are arbitrarily arrested (it is not clear what for but clearly for not being British enough). Sometimes they come back. Sometimes they come back very much the worse for wear. Sometimes they do not come back at all. The dictator has also started the British Northern European Empire, which requires the Scandinavians to submit to British control. Not surprisingly, the Scandinavians do not concur and are bombing Britain. Life has become distinctly unpleasant in Britain.

The story, interestingly enough, is told in the second person. Our hero, a fourteen-year old boy at the start of the story, is referred to as you, presumably so we can closely identify with him. His best friend, whose father was an M.P., who has managed to flee the country, has been arrested with his little brother. The younger brother returns, with one eye missing saying I know nothing. The older brother does not return. Our hero’s father, who was a lawyer (his wife was a professor of history) decides that his family must leave and they manage to sell enough to get money to go to Portsmouth and thence to Egypt.

Northern Europeans – the whole continent seem to be in turmoil – are fleeing to Egypt and other Arab countries. They are put in a camp and temporary asylum. Egypt is not happy as too many Europeans are flooding into the country. (No country wants another five refugees. Refugees who don’t know the language, who don’t know how to comport themselves in a classic cultural civilisation, how to respect thy neighbour, place the guest before oneself, or how to protect the virtues of a woman. Refugees who don’t know how to live in the heat. No country wants to receive more of those decadent people from Great Britain). Though it is warmer than the UK and there are no bombs, they are not allowed to work, go to school or even learn Arabic. Moreover, there are Danes in the camp and there is aggression between the two nationalities. Of course the Arab world [is] the only region with peace and opportunities for a tomorrow.

We follow their travails in Egypt. They are lucky enough to get asylum but they do not speak the language and finding work is difficult. Even when the war is ended (the writer is Danish, so you can guess the result), things are very hard in the UK. People disappear, no-one knows why or where to. Our hero is in touch with Carol, a friend from the UK, but Egypt won’t take her. Britons are indecent heathens who corrupt any society that takes them in. The British count themselves superior to everybody, they have no discipline and are unruly and give rise to unrest everywhere, particularly the women, no matter how much you teach them about their host country’s ways and habits.

Things get worse. His sister is expelled from school for immorality. She then meets and marries a Muslim and becomes a devout Muslim to her parents’ horror. She then goes back to England and becomes a neo-punk. In short, things are not going to get better. If anything, they will get worse.

Teller tells her story well. She makes a very valid point and there is no question that seeing the story of the refugees from the British side is very effective. She wrote the story, as she says in the afterword when the discussion about refugees in Denmark first seemed to forget that two of our most hailed European philosophical, humanitarian and even Christian, values are: that all human beings are created equal, and to do unto others as you would wish them do unto you. It may be something of a simplistic view but it is a very valid one and all credit to Teller to raising it in this way.

Publishing history

First published 2004 by Dansklærerforeningen
First published in English in 2016 by Simon & Schuster
Translated by the author